In the offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies “Four Aces” rotation was heralded as having the potential to be one of the best ever. Considering the track records of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt, those lofty pre-season expectations were far from hyperbole. Perhaps that’s why much less attention has been paid to the fact that the Phillies have actually made good on even some of the most optimistic predictions.
To date, the Phillies’ team ERA of 3.05 ERA is the franchise’s lowest total since the dead ball era (2.46 ERA in 1917). Compared to the rest of the league, the current ERA+ of 128 also ranks as the NL’s best rate since the 2003 Dodgers ended the year at that same level. Put into further context, the Phillies have allowed 22.1% fewer runs than the league average, a comparative advantage surpassed by only 20 other teams since 1901. Clearly, the Phillies’ pitching has lived up to its billing.
Entering the season, the strength of the Phillies’ pitching staff was supposed to be its four front-line starters, and, for the most part, that has proven to be true. The triple-threat of Lee, Hamels, and Halladay have all posted an ERA+ of 150 or higher in at least 175 innings, which, if maintained, would mark only the fifth trio in major league history to exhibit such similar levels of dominance.
Teams with Three Dominant* Starters, Since 1901
|2011||Philadelphia Phillies||Roy Halladay||157||196.2|
|1913||Chicago White Sox||Eddie Cicotte||186||268|
|1910||Philadelphia Athletics||Jack Coombs||182||353|
|1907||Chicago Cubs||Mordecai Brown||216||233|
|1906||Chicago Cubs||Mordecai Brown||253||277.1|
*ERA+ of at least 150; IP of at least 175.
According to the preseason expectations, the Phillies were supposed to have four aces, not three. However, injury and relative underperformance has limited Oswalt to a league average ERA in just under 100 innings. Enter Vance Worley.
Before his promotion at the end of April, Worley was an unheralded prospect with a near .500 record and 3.80 ERA in the minor leagues. In 17 starts since replacing the injured Oswalt, however, Worley has done more than just limit the damage. In fact, by going 10-1 with a 2.85 ERA (ERA+ of 137), Worley has been just as good as Oswalt was expected to be, if not better. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.
Meanwhile, Phillies’ starters haven’t been the only members of the staff making historic contributions. Left handed reliever Antonio Bastardo, who has dazzled with a 1.38 ERA in 52 innings, has proven to be almost unhittable…literally. Among all pitchers since 1901 with at least 50 innings, Bastardo has turned in the lowest ratio of hits per nine innings (and therefore the lowest batting average against).
Lowest H/9IP (minimum 50 IP), Since 1901
Note: A pitcher with a lower H/9IP can have a higher BAA because of outcomes like double plays and caught stealings.
All of the Phillies’ pitching accomplishments wouldn’t matter much if they didn’t add up in the win column. Despite an offense that ranks below league average, Philadelphia has still managed to compile the best record in the game. In fact, the Phillies’ current winning percentage of .654 has put the team on pace for 106 victories. That total would not only far surpass the franchise record of 101, which was accomplished in 1976 and 1977, but also rank among the 10 highest totals in National League history (based on winning percentage, the 2011 Phillies currently rank within the top-20).
In just about every sense, it has been a banner year for the Phillies. Of course, the one banner that matters most, a World Series flag, has yet to be attained. As other great teams have learned, surviving the post season gauntlet can sometimes require as much luck as talent, so Philadelphia can’t rest on the laurels of its dominant pitching just yet. Although four aces are hard to beat, some might say that lineups like the Yankees and Red Sox resemble a Royal Flush.